Combating Sticks and Stones

Words can hurt, right? Even when unintentional.

My youngest has grown tall for his age (over 6’), understands the importance of healthy eating and movement to live a long and healthy life, but eats more than the energy he’s expending, and is quickly growing out of his clothes.

He and I were out for a walk when he shared a comment one of his fellow students made, calling him fat. Of course, I wanted to know details so I asked him, “What exactly did they say?” He shared it was someone he didn’t know, it happened in the hallway, and the person was smiling, made eye contact with my son, and said, “hey man, your clothes don’t fit,” and kept walking. He wasn’t laughing, his tone wasn’t harsh, but his words landed like a punch to my son’s gut. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Sad,” he said. I understood. Of course the momma bear in me went into high gear, and I said, “if someone says that again, you can say, ‘well your personality doesn’t fit.’ It might confuse them in the moment, but should get them to think more carefully about their words to others.” I was angry.

We walked for a while more. My own feelings of insecurity and body image/shame that were more intense in my younger years came flooding back. I HATED that my child was having to experience people being so careless with their words, and trying to diminish my son and his self-worth. We talked about why the person may have said what they did — their own discomfort, or not feeling good about themselves and wanting to direct their negative energy elsewhere and my son being the unfortunate recipient. My son felt sorry for the other student and their ignorance. That student has no idea who my son is, or what he has to offer others (much like my son doesn’t know the other student).

We were fortunate that my son had been reached out to on the same day by his former school asking him to come back and volunteer, and commenting on how much he was missed. It helped ease my son’s pain. I was grateful.

Having a child that struggles with anything — looks, smarts, physical abilities, etc. is tough. People being thoughtless with their words and hurting others, just mean. I have to remind myself we all can and should do better. Be thoughtful. Be caring. Be kind.

How do you help your child when others aren’t nice? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your child and others?

Audition

Ever get stage fright?

That’s not exactly what happened with my son, but it was pretty close. My youngest started high school and has been looking forward to getting back into theatre. Being his first year, he wasn’t sure what he’d need to do to join the drama club. He learned they’d have auditions and he’d need to come, bring his paperwork, and read a script.

He was a bit nervous about going (naturally), but worked through his nerves and stayed until it was his turn. They called him to the stage and said, “Okay, you can start.” My son was confused and overwhelmed. He didn’t know what they wanted him to do and he broke down in tears. Thankfully, the adults realized they needed to give him more direction, gave him a minute to compose himself and handed him a script to read from. He regained his composure and redid his audition, this time feeling more confident in his effort. I met him in the parking lot following. He broke down in tears again talking about how embarrassing it was that he didn’t know what to do, and admitting that afterwards he realized he hadn’t read the paperwork completely and at the bottom it referenced coming with a monologue prepared.

We talked about this being a growing experience. That life will sometimes through unexpected things our way, and how we respond matters. He might not have liked how he responded, but recognized he was so overwhelmed that his emotions burst through. I reminded him that the good news was he survived and everything was fine after all. He appeared to take some solace in this. We talked about how he might handle the situation differently next time – be it an audition or something else. “I guess I’ll read the paperwork more closely,” he said. I told him that was a good way to avoid getting caught off guard, but the unknown can happen regardless of how well you plan. While he couldn’t come up with what he’d do differently, we discussed recognizing the feeling if/when it happens again and if possible take some deep breaths to give himself a chance to respond in a way he feels better about. It’s a start.

I’m proud of my son for trying and not giving up. I’m more proud of how in tune he is with his emotions and his understanding of his need to feel them, counter to how many of us who will do anything not to.

The drama season officially kicks off soon and the school has several plays. Whether he has a speaking role or plays Tree#3 😊 I’m grateful he’s sticking with it, as it proves even when we fall/fail/didn’t-realize-we-were-supposed-to-have-memorized-a-monologue there is always the opportunity to dust yourself off (regroup), and try again.

How do you handle the unexpected? How are you helping your child navigate a perceived failure?

Transitioning

Parenthood is all about dealing with transitions, right?

The transitions came fast and furious when my sons were babies. The transitions slowed and felt more manageable as they aged, but there is always that period of time, at least for me, at the beginning of a new phase of their life, that I am uncomfortable because I’m learning how to adjust to the newness as well.

After several challenging moments with my oldest, I started googling for books on ‘my son hates me’. I’ve always been okay with my kids being unhappy with me especially in times where I’m trying to impart a lesson, or teach a moral or value, but lately with my oldest it seems I can do nothing right, it’s embarrassing that I exist, and I’m clearly the most annoying person in the world. It’s the plight of many teenage parents, I know. 😬 I stumbled upon the book “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself,” by Adam Price. The reviews were high so I gave it a shot. What was I missing in my interactions and communications with my son?

I read the book while our family was together for a weekend away. The context of the book is focused on boys who’ve checked out of school, but I found you can easily apply what your son is ‘checking out of’ to almost anything. For my son, he’s fine in school (we’ve taken a pretty hands off approach) with the exception of having him show us progress/reports cards online periodically. We’ve been way more involved/vocal on his activities and have tried to motivate/prompt/threaten (lost privileges) for not being more proactive. In reading the book, I took away the following—I need to give my son more space, even in his activities. He still needs guidance/guardrails, but essentially he’s capable enough and needs to take more ownership. I need (along with my husband), to step back, give him room, and let him show us who he is. This is soooo hard. My son is capable and does need room to grow. He needs to build confidence in himself and his capabilities, but oh how I still want to be able to help him navigate things with ease, and remove obstacles where I can. I’m not helping him by helping him. The age-old trap us parents can fall into. I have to tell myself to zip it (when I want to give coaching or advice), and let him g(r)o(w). Soooo hard.

How are you helping your child grow their confidence? If you have a teen, how are you helping them transition into adulthood?

How Getting Feedback Helps

My sons got to spend time with their grandparents over a school vacation. My oldest planned to help his grandfather with some outside work while there.

I called to check in and see how things were going. My oldest shared, “I feel pretty worthless.” “Why are you saying that?,” I asked. “Because, grandpa asked me to dig out some dirt, and after I was done, he and the neighbor, who’s helping out, had to come back and redo the work I did. It’s embarrassing.” Clearly my son wanted to do a good job for his grandpa. I doubted grandpa saw the work he’d done as anything other than helpful, yet, I knew that my saying that wouldn’t help my son. “What could you do different tomorrow?,” I asked him. “I don’t know. That’s why this is so frustrating. I’m not sure what I could have done differently.” There was silence while both he and I thought. “What about if you start doing the work, then stop after a few minutes and get grandpa’s feedback — confirming you are doing it right, or make adjustments. That should allow you to get it right and feel good about it the first time. What do you think?” I asked. “Hmmm. That makes sense,” he replied. We then changed the topic and discussed what else he’d been up to while there.

The next evening we checked in again. This time he felt much better about the work he’d done. “Everything went fine,” he shared. He was smiling. It was good to see my son feeling so pleased. The following day, he sent me a video and texted that they’d finished. You could tell be his voice how proud he was of the work they had done.

I’m happy my son got to work with his grandpa and learn some new things. I hope he took from it that by taking the simple step of asking for feedback and correcting as you go, can save you pain (maybe even embarrassment), and help you feel good about what you accomplish.

What simple steps are you teaching your child to avoid mistakes, and/or be more successful?

Just Be You

How old were you when you first became self-conscious?

I can’t recall exactly when the moment was, but would tell you it started around the third grade and grew from there. A collection of small comments here and there — whether about my looks or actions, or that of others — I picked up that people were watching, and judging.

My oldest son is a teen and extremely self-conscious. My younger is a tween, and is more self-aware, less self-conscious. That’s one if the gifts you get from being on the spectrum, you often don’t hear or register those small comments that neuro-typical folks catch.My oldest is embarrassed easily by everyone and everything (that he doesn’t see as ‘cool’) around him — my husband, his brother, and I can easily cause my older son embarrassment even if it’s in the privacy of our own home. I can’t sing, dance or be silly without my oldest asking me to stop. “Mom, you’re so embarrassing,” he’ll say. “We’re in our house. No one can see us. What’s to be embarrassed about?,” I’ll reply. “It just is,” he says. Ugh.

My oldest was having one of his you-all-are-so-embarrassing-me moments right before my husband, younger son, and I went for a walk. My oldest stayed behind. He didn’t want to be seen with us. 😊

As we were walking we discussed how easily our oldest gets embarrassed. His younger brother said, “I don’t know why he gets so embarrassed, we’re just being ourselves.” “We’ll, maybe that makes him uncomfortable,” I replied. My son said, “Well it shouldn’t. There’s a great saying I heard. Just be you. Everyone else has been taken.” My husband and I smiled. “How old are you again?” I asked. Very insightful for a tween. I just wish his older brother had just been there to hear it.

Is your child self-conscious? If so, how are you helping them see they are perfect just as they are?

Hanging Out

My oldest son used to go on play dates, but not anymore.

At his school’s Field Day, I was introduced to one of his classmate’s mom when her son and mine ran up to us. “Mom, mom, can K come over?” my son asked. I looked at K’s mom. “Would you all be up for a play date?” My son looked horror struck. He quickly said, “Mom, we don’t call them play dates anymore, you call it hanging out or chilling,” (while throwing in some hand gestures to ensure I understood he was ‘cool’). 🙂  I could tell I had unintentionally embarrassed my son by using the wrong lingo, so I quickly corrected myself. “Can K come over to hang out this weekend?” We set a time up when K could come over.

When my son and I were alone in the car later he said, “Mom, play dates are what little kids do. I’m not a little kid anymore.” He’s right, he’s not. I catch myself still using ‘baby/little kid’ talk too often. I recently asked, “Does anyone need to go potty before we leave?” My boys both responded, “Mom (in a long drawn out way that indicated I should know better), it’s called the bathroom, and yes we’ve both used it!” I’ve realized two things: 1) my boys are indeed growing up, and 2) I’ve got to revisit my vocabulary — because I don’t want to embarrass them (I know I hated being embarrassed even unintentionally by my parents growing up), and using older language allows me to acknowledge that they are indeed getting older.

Has anyone else caught themselves doing this? If so, how are you catching yourself and modifying your language?

Be Easily Forgotten or a Hero?

Have you ever been embarrassed by a sibling or family member?

My oldest has reached an age where he is becoming embarrassed by his younger brother. While he loves his brother, they get along quite well together, he is starting to be influenced by what his friends think.

We were having dinner and my oldest decided he needed to share with us that his friends make fun of his younger brother because he gets excited over little kid things — mind you he’s a few years younger than his brother, so it’s normal for him to be into the things he’s into, but his older brother was embarrassed none-the-less.

My youngest son was at the table, made a frown and said, “that hurts my feelings and kind of makes me feel bad.” I agreed. I was pretty unhappy my oldest had shared his opinion so openly with disregard for how it might make his brother feel.

My husband and I began to talk to our oldest. My husband reminded our son of a  segment we’d listened to on the radio where a man recalled an experience from his childhood where he’d followed an assignment given by the teacher to write down something you like and then asked the kids to give their assignment to a peer to read aloud. The boy hadn’t realized the assignment would be read aloud and immediately became embarrassed when he knew it would. As he suspected, the kids started to laugh at what he’d written. He wanted to disappear, until one of his peers, a girl in the class asked, “What’s the point of this assignment? To embarrass each other?” It stopped the class, it stopped the teacher, it ended the assignment. He never forgot that girl and how she stood up and ended his humiliation. He ends the story by challenging the listener to consider who you want to be in life — one that flies under the radar and is easily forgotten, or be the hero and remembered forever? We challenged our son to think about who he wanted to be — we’d hope he’d want to (and have the courage to) be the hero. “You stand up for your brother. You don’t ever tolerate someone else making fun of him,” I said. I looked at his younger brother and said, “And you do the same for him. You guys both need to look out for one another.”

We ended the conversation after getting the boys to confirm they understood us and would work to stand up for each other, even in uncomfortable situations. I’m hoping to raise heroes, not those easily forgotten.

How are you raising your child to stand up for their siblings or peers? How are you teaching them to be someone’s hero?

Mom, please!

Have you ever embarrassed your child in public? When did your parent embarrass you as a child? How did it affect you?

My parents are loving people. Growing up they were strict, but loving. Spanking was used to discipline in our house. The threat of a possible spanking typically kept me in line, so thankfully, I cannot remember my parents embarrassing me in a your-going-to-get-a-spanking kind of way in public. Instead, they would let me know a spanking was coming in more private settings (away from others, in the car or house). It was a warning and I had a choice to make—straighten up or get spanked. My decision was easy to make (I would do just about anything to avoid being spanked). I noticed other parents weren’t as considerate and would embarrass their children in front of others. While I hated getting spanked, I was grateful my parents were different. I realized my parents could embarrass me in a different way as I grew older—when they’d brag about me in front of others. I hated it because 1) as a teen I was very self-conscious (aren’t we all?) and I was mortified when attention was put on me, 2) I didn’t feel like the things my parents were sharing were worth bragging about, and 3) I felt utterly unable to stop my parents from what they were doing in fear of embarrassing them (I knew how much I didn’t like it, and assumed they wouldn’t like it either). I definitely didn’t just stand there and take what was happening in these situations. I would attempt to stop my parents mid-sentence. “Mom, please.” “Mom, really. Please stop.” I’d even try the eye roll, and try to make eye contact with my parents friend in an attempt to communicate I’m so sorry, but it never seemed to work.

Now that I have my own children, I’ve been faced with the same challenges my parent went through. We don’t spank in our house, so my boys have never had to fear that as a punishment, however, it makes motivating them to behave that much more challenging. Taking away privileges or a stern talking to works sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t. I feel very challenged in these moments. There is a part of me that would like to vent my frustration at their resistance to adhere to what I’m asking them to do, and I have to catch myself sometimes from not doing this in public (it’s not easy) when they’re acting out around others. A “get in the car NOW” seems to do the trick, they know I’m unhappy with their behavior and it will be better for them to get into the car than not. Still, it’s a challenge.

My boys were in a concert at school. They would be singing a few songs with their classmates. My youngest was eager to participate. My oldest was mortified. “I’m not going,” he said, “and you can’t make me.” At first, my husband and I responded, “Oh yes we can. Don’t you tell us what you are or are not going to do.” That just seemed to make my son dig his heels in deeper. “Nope, I’m not going to do it.” My husband tried reasoning with him. “You’re part of your class…a team. You’re going to let your classmates down if you don’t participate, and that’s going to be embarrassing.” My son simply replied, “No it won’t. Half of them aren’t here anyway, no one is going to notice.” He was right, it was a volunteer concert (not mandatory) so many of his classmates weren’t there. Ugh. The show was going to start soon, and we were nearing the end of our attempts to prompt our son to participate. My husband and I felt strongly he couldn’t “opt-out” of participating, because often in life you can’t do that–you’ll lose a job, or a friend, or an opportunity. My mind was spinning, what else could we do?  And then it occurred to me. “You are going to go up and sing with your class. We are only asking you to go up there to try your best. No one expects perfection.” My son was getting ready to say, “No again” when I cut him off. “If you don’t go, I was pull you up there kicking and screaming if I have to, and that will be embarrassing not only for you, but for me. No one is going to forget that.” He gave me a ‘you wouldn’t’ and then a ‘how could you!’ face, then got up and went with his classmates calmly to the stage. I hated that it had resorted to this, but was glad he was motivated to participate. As his class sang, we could see that our son was enjoying it, he even gave us a ‘thumbs up’ from the stage at one point. Afterwards, he came back to us and in a ‘you-were-right-but-I-hate-admitting-it’ tone shared, “I was so nervous, but I think I did pretty good.”  My husband and I smiled, “You did great.” I shared, “I loved that one song, can we sing it now?” My son looked at me and said, “Mom, please!” I didn’t, of course, (though I was tempted to) but it was fun to see the moment come full circle.

How do you prompt your child to action without embarrassing them?

 

 

 

 

Potty Talk

Has your child ever embraced a behavior you don’t condone and had you wondering how in the world did this happen?

My boys have entered a potty talk phase. They eagerly seek out opportunities to insert bodily functions (fart, in particular, brings them the most glee) into conversations to make them more humorous (in their minds), songs (their latest was We Wish You a Merry Fart-mas, and a Happy Poop Year — which they came up with ad hoc on the drive home from school — ugh!), and play (it’s not uncommon to find the good guys and bad guys using their own body-producing gas to take out the other side).

Growing up in a family of all girls, potty talk never entered the picture. You might have to pass gas (the word ‘fart’ was never said in my house growing up that I can remember) but you did it discreetly and you never talked about it. Ever. We thought the boys who participated in this kind of talk were gross, and were grateful we didn’t have to share space with them outside of class.  I’m seeing the boys I judged so harshly as a young girl now in a different light. Those boys I detested as a young girl, are now my sons.

Of course, since this started I’ve attempted to let my boys know how others may view their behavior (if you have to say these words and giggle endlessly about it, get this out of your system in the car or at home…and please, please, please don’t use it in front of Grandma and Grandpa), and that there really isn’t anything funny about how the body works.  And while our kids understand that passing gas is normal, as well as having a bowel movement, they’ve also found great humor in it. Oh, I hope this phase ends soon.

Of course, we all go through phases growing up and look back with fondness, embarrassment and sometimes both. While I’m not a particular fan of this phase (though have to admit, I have found myself smiling or even silently laughing at some of the stuff they’ve come up with), I know it’s just kids being kids. It’s another opportunity for growth — to strengthen my parenting skills (including patience and communication), and theirs (you don’t have many opportunities to be silly and carefree, particularly as you get older…I hope my husband and I help them figure out how to have their next silly and carefree phase in a more civilized way).

Has your child had a potty humor phase?  If so, how did you handle it?

How have you helped your child be silly and carefree?

 

Soccer Mom

Did your parent(s) ever embarrass you as a child?

Of course they did, right?  It’s a rite of passage for most parents. While I’ve been open with my boys that mom and dad will likely embarrass them from time to time, it will never be intentionally done. They know they can call us on it, and we (my husband and I) have to own it, and try to make it right (e.g. don’t do it again).  What I didn’t anticipate was where I’d have the most trouble not being a repeat offender — at the soccer field.

I am not one of those parents who yells at the kids or the refs and tries to correct them. Instead I’m guilty of calling a play-by-play with what the kids are doing on the field, like it’s some how going to help the outcome of the game. “Nice pass to Jake.” “Way to block it, Luke.” “Take it away, Caleb. You’ve got this.” But one time I went a little too far. My son was struggling in a game, and instead of doing what the coach was telling him, he got angry and started to talk back, “I’m doing what you told me!” “What am I doing wrong?” I didn’t like the way he was talking to the coach, and instead of letting the coach handle it (like I should have) I said, “Why don’t you channel your anger back into the game, and get more focused?” My son was clearly beside himself with embarrassment grunted and gave me a “zip it” hand gesture (moving his fingers across his mouth). When it was half-time he came over to the sidelines with his teammates, and knowing I was standing nearby, loudly said, “I don’t ever want you to come to a game again!”

He had a point. I would have hated it if my parents had done the same thing to me. I wanted to be supportive and encouraging (that’s what we need at any age), not shame him in front of his peers. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. If I wanted to have this discussion with him, I should have done it in private. I told him as much after the game.  “I was wrong. Not what I said, but where I said it. I should have said it away from everyone being able to hear and I’m sorry.”  He still wasn’t happy, but he got it. I owned my part in what happened, and haven’t made a similar comment (at least in front of his peers) since.

I think I rationalize my broadcasting tendencies (which are now strictly the positive play-by-plays) as wanting to show I’m interested and vested (e.g. my son knows I care about what he’s doing), and that somehow my encouragement will help the team (know that they are supported and care). Not to worry, I’m aware that my ‘cheering’ likely isn’t doing much, if any, good, and am working to be a more subdued parent. Outside of walking away from the game and distracting myself, I haven’t come up with a lot of best practices for how to do this.  Anyone have any suggestions to share?

I know my son realizes I mean well, and that I’m his biggest (along with his dad) fan, but I need to model for him how you support someone without strings attached (e.g. I support you even when you’re struggling…especially when you’re struggling), encourage without having to voice my praise (clapping or a yahoo is fine during the game, any points I want to make can be saved for the car ride home). And maybe that’s it…a desire to share feedback real-time, versus seeing how things play out and providing more constructive input at a later time. It’s not easy. It takes practice. I’ve got some work to do.

Are there any other rowdy parents like me out there (willing to admit it)? Do you have a hard time being quiet and calm while watching your child participate in a competitive activity?